Fat and hopeless but, thanks to surfing, able to love himself again! | Photo: The Daily Beast

Lessons from a VAL: “How learning to surf taught me to love myself”

What mysteries unfurl when you go shred?

It is impossible, I think, to preserve a neutral attitude towards the Vulnerable Adult Learner surfer. You either hate and burn intolerance or you are one.

Earlier, a BeachGrit reader forwarded a story about a pop-journalist VAL in Costa Rica who writes of his profound experiences with surfing. The story appears  on the Tina Brown-created news site The Daily Beast, an odd place that was once howled down by the Taliban for its inaccuracies.

Todd Plummer is an ordinary man, a “built-for-comfort-not-for-speed travel writer from Boston.” He has, in the course of his reporting, been “heli-skiing, walking with wolves, biking across the Scottish Highlands, falconry, and ice-climbing.”

Surfing in Costa Rica was his next challenge, which as the title of his story suggests, delivers multiple enlightenments.

I soon learned that my favorite part of the experience was sitting in the lineup of surfers waiting to catch waves. If nothing else came from that lesson with Matos, I learned how to properly sit up on my longboard in the water. Of course there were a few flips and falls, times when I would accidentally gyrate my way off the board and fall into the water with legs akimbo, but the most gratifying part of the day was socializing with the other surfers and learning their stories. There was a retired fashion executive from New York who moved to the area so he could surf every day.


Towards the end of my lesson, as if out of my dreams, a total hunk paddled by—the quintessential surfer dude, with tousled hair and washboard abs. Without even so much as saying hello, he gave me some advice. 

“Dude, I’ve been watching you. Everything you’re thinking, you gotta leave it on the shore,” he said. “It’s all mental, it’s all in your head.”


I still do not know much about surfing, but this I know for sure: it can’t be told, it must be felt. The confidence and balance it takes to surf is not a one-two-three-step instruction, but comes from within. It’s about learning to feel the waves and to find your center on the board. Passing judgment on yourself is not going to make you a better surfer—leaving your insecurities on the shore is.

And, of course, because a story like this without a pithy ending is like a massage without your paper underpants being yanked down and your eyeballs rolling back in your head like marbles,

When I got back from Costa Rica and excitedly texted a travel writer friend who surfs that I recently “learned how to surf,” she corrected me. 

“Todd, you are still learning. A true surfer knows he never has fully learned.”

Read the story here.

Question: what has surfing taught you?

To love yourself?

That life ain’t fair?

That the meek will be eaten alive?

That there isn’t a better way to distribute precious resources than through a meritocracy?

NZ is OK and gets the Kelly Slater credibility stamp. (Photo: the iconic Steve Sherman)
NZ is OK and gets the Kelly Slater credibility stamp. (Photo: the iconic Steve Sherman) | Photo: WSL

Kelly Slater erupts: “There are 30 guys on tour rated lower than me. Go talk to them!”

"What’s embarrassing? Why the shade?"

Kelly Slater is a modern marvel, a wonder, a famous man willing to mingle with the lesser-thans. An iconic man happy to engage nobodies. And if you happen to follow Mick Fanning’s engaging Instagram account you can get your hooks in.


Oh, Mick Fanning, two or three time World Champ (I can’t remember) posted an homage to J-Bay today, a beautiful turn underneath a rainbow sky. The comments, as you’d expect, were effusive with praise.


“Always gonna be one of my favorites…”

“Best to ever do it…”

“Gorgeous shot…”


But St. Christopher1, the patron saint of surfers, was less charitable, writing, “Just go surfing. Comps suck. @kellyslater is embarrassing and should of bowed out many moons ago!”

Well, Kelly came swinging in within minutes, asking for clarification, “what’s embarrassing? Why the shade?”

After getting hammered for a few hours St. Christoper1 backed right down and replied, “I apologise @kellyslater. It is confounding how these young men on tour have no financial backing they struggle. My point is that you have nothing to prove. You are a wonderful human. No question. In my opinion only without prejudice is that it could be time to allow a young man to be gifted his dream of being on tour and the tour to support them financially mandatory.”

Kelly’s final retort? “What makes you think I’m doing this to prove anything? I’m just having fun with it. And why should anyone be implored to give up a spot to anyone who hasn’t earned it? There are 30 guys on tour rated lower than me. Go talk to them.”

Then used his now famous lecherous emoji face.

So, if you “threw shade” on Kelly and he responded would you back down straight away?

And do you wish the man would step away and let some kid have a shot?

I don’t. When Kelly leaves for the final time I’ll roll my wheelchair onto the porch of the old folk’s home, where my child has sent me, and weep.

Watch: Hawaiian boat captain skirts disaster with deck full of tourists!

The Miracle at Ala Moana!

I don’t know what your greatest fears are but one of mine is certainly losing control of a large sailboat in a pumping surf chock-a-block with Hawaiian surfers. Oh the absolute white-knuckle terror. The complete and enveloping horror.

Years ago I thought that only complete amateurs and/or drunks lost control of their boats near shore but then I started sailing, a bit, and realized how easily things can go pear-shaped and by “things” I mean everything and anything. Literally everything and anything.

And so when I saw a video of a large sailboat in pumping surf chock-a-block with Hawaiian surfers, recently, my heart jumped into my throat. The boat was trying to make its way into Ala Moana harbor there on Oahu’s south shore but, as you can see by the waves, it was a big day.

I imagined the worst, of course. That the boat would capsize, hit a few surfers, kill a few passengers, catch cracks on the beach afterward etc. but watch how the captain navigates and surfs right into the harbor mouth. It is the very first time in my life that I have wondered if there is some value in learning to SUP. If the knowledge of guiding an obese vessel through waves might have some proper value.

The best part of the video may be the narration of surf cinematographer Bruno Lemos. I think the World Surf League should call him up to the booth straight away. I think we’d all be very thankful.

Surf star Ellie-Jean Coffey breaks up with cheating stud, says, “I’m officially single as fuck!”

Come and get it boys (and girls)…

Ain’t love a kick in the head.

One minute you’re planning a life in Byron Bay, all dressed in beige and with children called Marlow and Tigress, the next the ol cheating hammer comes down on your heart, splintering it forever.

Ellie-Jean Coffey is twenty-four, a very good surfer, a goofyfooter for those who care about such things, and an Instagram maven with one million followers.

Earlier today, she announced she had just arrived in the singles marketplace.


I called Ellie-Jean shortly after the post appeared.

Journalism, brothers and sisters.

So, single?

“Yes, I’m single as fuck…so…yeah…he cheated on me so I’m officially single as fuck.”

The facts, as I was told are this: her boyfriend of one-and-a-half years had a bit of a night a couple of weeks ago and hooked up with a gal pal of EJ’s.

It’s the Gold Coast. It’s what you do.

In response, Ellie-Jean has moved to Sydney, to Narrabeen where her grandparents live, for “a fresh start.”


Ms Coffey, who has only been single once before in her life, for three months when she was twenty-one, was told of the event by her sister.

I asked, were you furious?


Did you throw things?

“No, just angry and then sad and then strong.”

Are you excited about the voyage that lays ahead?


Do you see it as a chance to exercise your adventurous side?


Does being relatively anonymous in the big city give you the opportunity to spread your wings in a way you couldn’t at home?

“One hundred percent.”

How about a swinging throuple? Asking for a pal.

“Like a three-person relationship? Nah, I’m too jealous.”

Boy or girl?


What sorta person y’want?

“Someone loyal.”

What else you got to say?

“Anyone who has been cheated on, I fucking feel for you.”

You can direct message Ellie-Jean via her IG account here. 

Breaking: World Surf League inks development deal with “trailblazing production company!”

Television, movies, a Dana White backed competition show!

Oh what happy news. What wonderful happy news and you should be as thrilled as the World Surf League’s President of Content, Media and Angry Posted Then Subsequently Deleted Twitter Letters Aimed At Young Women Erik “ELo” Logan for he has gone and done it.

He has gone and inked a development deal with the “trailblazing production company” Pilgrim Media, part of Lionsgate, to produce “…a variety of surf-centric sport and lifestyle content across all formats and platforms. The endeavor is the first to be announced by WSL Studios and will involve live and non-live unscripted projects, as well as a range of distinct scripted opportunities.”


I’m breathless so would you allow me to collect myself while you read the rest of the press release?

Pilgrim, a Lionsgate Company, and WSL Studios have two major undertakings in the pipeline already – a feature documentary and a fresh nonscripted competition format for which the parties partnered with the UFC’s Dana White – with several other programs in active development. The venture will feature traditional surf content like contests and clip shows, and will also shed light on surf culture – spanning its roots to the worldwide emergence of its own language and literature; music, film, fashion and other art; lifestyle; social impact; as well as environmental and conservation efforts.

“Partnering with Pilgrim from the onset of WSL Studios sets the bar for the level of quality we are endeavoring to achieve,” said WSL President of Content and Media, Erik Logan. “Their talent for producing top-notch unscripted programming, particularly when it comes to emerging sports, and their unmatched ability to capture the inaccessible for audiences around the world make Pilgrim an incredible partner for the WSL.”

Ok ok ok ok ok ok. So much to discuss.

Who’s going to be in the Dana White show?

Who’s going to become the brightest celluloid star out of the entire WSL stable?

Should the WSL produce a Friends-style sitcom about life in the booth starring Noah Jupe as Joe Turpel, Keanu Reeves as Ron “Dog” Blakey, Tim Allen as Peter Mel and the robot from Short Circuit as the ’89 World Champion Martin “Pottz” Potter?

Tell me you’re not feeling it.

Tell me you aren’t breathless too.